Afghan clerics demand punishment for Quran desecrators

March 2, 2012 - 18:50
KABUL - Senior Afghan clerics said on Friday the burning of the copies of the Holy Quran at a NATO base last month was an "evil act" that must be punished, a demand that could deepen widespread public anger over the incident.
"The council strongly condemns this crime and inhumane, savage act by American troops by desecrating the Holy Quran," members of a council of clerics said after meeting President Hamid Karzai, according to a statement issued by his office, Reuters reported.
"The council emphasized that the apology for this evil act can never be accepted. Those who committed this crime must be publicly tried and punished."
Despite the apology from U.S. President Barack Obama, the desecration of the Quran at Bagram air base ignited a wave of anti-Western fury across the country. 
At least 30 people were killed in the protests.
The copies of the Holy Quran had been confiscated from prisoners at the base and mistakenly discarded in an incinerator, U.S. officials said. Afghan laborers found charred remnants.
A string of attacks on NATO troops by Afghan security forces followed the Quran desecration.
The killing of two U.S. officers, allegedly by a police intelligence officer, in the heart of the heavily guarded Interior Ministry raised particular concern and cast fresh doubt over the effectiveness of Afghan security forces.
If their capabilities do not improve before foreign combat troops head home at the end of 2014, the country could face prolonged instability.
Bagram was a source of friction between the United States Karzai's government long before the Quran desecration.
An Afghan government commission investigating abuse accusations at the largest U.S. jail in Afghanistan which is there, has said inmates had reported being tortured and being held without evidence.
Control over Afghans captured by U.S. forces is a major stumbling block in negotiations between Kabul and Washington on a strategic partnership agreement. NATO's night-time raids on Afghan homes, which Karzai objects to, are another point of contention.
The agreement would define the terms of any U.S. military presence after the end of 2014.
The senior clerics said the Quran desecration took place at Bagram because the administration of the prison at the facility, where the holy books had been located, did not treat religious material with respect.
"We strongly demand the closure of prisons run by foreigners," the clerics told Karzai during the meeting, his office said.
--------------Afghan attack on NATO convoy wounds seven
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a NATO convoy in the insurgency-hit southern province of Kandahar Friday, wounding seven people including four soldiers, an official said.
"A suicide attacker rammed his explosives-laden motorcycle into a convoy of NATO troops in Dand district injuring four foreign soldiers, one policeman, one translator and one civilian," provincial governor Toryalai Weesa told AFP.
A spokesman for NATO'S International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed the attack, but would not give details of any wounded soldiers, saying only that none had been killed.
The attack bore the hallmarks of the Taliban, who on Monday targeted NATO troops in a suicide car bombing at an airport in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine people.
The Taliban said that attack was in revenge for the Quran desecration.
The only NATO soldiers reported killed in Afghanistan in the 10 days since the demonstrations erupted have died at the hands of Afghan colleagues.
Two Americans were killed at a military outpost in Kandahar Thursday, taking the number of Americans killed by Afghan associates to six since outbreak of the protests.